The Claremont McKenna College Commitments to Freedom of Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, and Effective Dialogue

Approved by the CMC Board of Trustees, December 6, 2018

The Open Academy

The National Higher Education Challenge

In response to our most pressing national challenges, structural forces have separated, fragmented, and polarized our society and national discourse. Globalization and immigration, technology and social media, urbanization and secularization—all contribute to increased levels of segregation, disillusionment, and division. Many have become more opinionated about what they are against than what they are for. Political ideology now poses a formidable social barrier. The media has become divided into red and blue outlets. Social media algorithms have created echo chambers.

Notwithstanding long-standing commitments to non-partisanship, higher education has also become increasingly politicized. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni look to higher education leadership to choose sides in national controversies. Immigration, gun control, climate change, and many other issues drive increasingly partisan statements. This hardening partisanship threatens educational principles of freedom of expression, the search for truth, and openness to controversial ideas that challenge conventional assumptions.

Commitments to freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and effective dialogue appear to have weakened. Provocateurs are exploiting technology and open-access policies. Coordinated, political reactions to shut down speaking events abridge freedoms of speech and assembly. False dichotomies have emerged such as freedom of speech and inclusion. The idea that these virtues are necessarily at odds has sadly taken root in our national discourse.

Against this pressure to take sides, orthodoxies chill more nuanced and critical thinking, undermine active listening and open inquiry, prevent engaged, respectful, and pointed debate, and frustrate efforts to find common ground. Many even fear retribution for the questions they pose or the views they express.[1] Higher education leadership have put more effort into responding to crises downstream than into the upstream pursuit of important educational objectives. Without this generation’s commitments to freedom of expression, viewpoint diversity, and effective dialogue, we will not be able to overcome what divides us.

The National Higher Education Solution

In response to these challenges, higher education must counter the forces that are pulling us apart with interventions that bring us together. It is our challenge, opportunity, and responsibility to develop a curriculum and pedagogies that value freedom of expression, expand exposure to diverse viewpoints, and develop the skills for effective dialogue across all divisions.

These efforts must go beyond simply creating awareness and need to reach people at a behavioral and psychological level. Such an approach must value intellectual integrity, critical thinking, learning through discomfort, the courage and candor to challenge conventions, and the communication and negotiation skills to understand and address divisive issues. Freedom of expression without an equal commitment to viewpoint diversity is of little value, just as is viewpoint diversity without the commitment and skill to find common ground. Accordingly, we must train our students in active listening, respectful debate, and problem-solving through effective dialogue. Finally, it is important to endorse institutional non-partisanship as an antidote to the politicization of higher education.

To inculcate and satisfy these objectives, we require more sophistication about these commitments, dynamic training within and outside the classroom, and reinforced experiences that help students build the necessary capabilities.

The Claremont McKenna Commitments

Only through renewed academic and institutional commitments to take effective action will we develop and sustain an effective response to these national challenges. Accordingly, Claremont McKenna College (the “College”) commits to strengthen the effectiveness in practice of the policies, programs, pedagogies, and dedicated training that develop these responsive capabilities in the next generation of emerging leaders. Such commitments shall be known as The Claremont McKenna Commitments to Freedom of Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, and Effective Dialogue.

Accordingly, CMC will strengthen:

  • Comprehensive policy, effective practice, and inculcation of freedom of expression, to be additionally bolstered by the value of institutional non-partisanship.[2]
  • Student recruiting, faculty and staff hiring, curricular offerings and syllabi choices, invited speakers and engaged formats at the Athenaeum that both bring and take full advantage of viewpoint diversity (whether it derives from experience or belief systems or any combination of the two).
  • Training in the skills and capabilities of effective dialogue that draw on the free expression of different viewpoints, open, critical inquiry, active listening, respectful debate, and facilitated communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills.

CMC will realize these commitments by building on a strong foundation of prior accomplishments and expanding its efforts in specific, practical ways.

Freedom of Expression

The CMC Board of Trustees and faculty have endorsed the universally recognized University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression and have confirmed it is in alignment with CMC’s existing policies.

In the fall of 2017, CMC developed a Freedom of Expression microsite that explains the foundations of freedom of expression, College policies, and the programs that teach and reinforce them.

CMC is the only higher education institution in California, and the only liberal arts college, to receive a “Green” rating for free speech from The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Our commitments to freedom of expression will be continually reinforced through all of our programming, including freshman/transfer orientation, coursework, the Athenaeum, and special workshop training, described below.

Viewpoint Diversity

Since its founding, CMC has been a leader in ideological diversity and commitment to freedom of expression, and a community that values persuasive and reasoned debate. CMC faculty offer a greater range of political ideologies than peer institutions and importantly supports a critical mass of academics who fall right of center. According to the Heterodox Academy CMC stands out among its peers in having the most support for dissenting views on its campus.

In 2017-18, CMC began to develop more grant funding for co-teaching and incorporating diverse viewpoint lecturers through guest teaching and the use of Skype and other technologies. Curricular innovations that bring even greater viewpoint diversity to our classrooms. When faculty assign authors from across the political spectrum they can receive honorariums for those authors to participate via videoconferencing in seminar style discussions with students. Having students read works before engaging authors allows for deeper classroom interactions and deliberative exchanges that can challenge pre-existing assumptions.

CMC’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum continues to be a nationally recognized sanctuary where speakers of many ideological stripes are welcomed. A new style of Athenaeum programming that sequences speakers with opposing viewpoints and encourages students to attend both programs along with a follow-up program geared to engage students in respectful debate and open discussion. This year, CMC will reinforce and expand Athenaeum programming to bring additional respected thought leaders in politics, economics, and culture who provide viewpoint diversity and participate in rigorous and thoughtful debates. A prominent group of thought leaders are already on the 2018-19 calendar.

The Athenaeum sponsors a student-led podcast group, Free Food for Thought, now in its third year. They interview Athenaeum speakers to find the connections between the personal and professional inflection points of thought- and action-leaders who speak at the Athenaeum. See Freefood4thought.com/. This group has also worked collaboratively with the President and CARE Center on the development of workshops and roundtables on the freedom of expression.

Effective Dialogue

CMC has built strong foundations for training in effective dialogue and has ambitious plans to expand this capability.

The CARE Center (Civility, Access, Resource, Expression) helps students develop the skills needed to have difficult conversations, identify with one another across social barriers or ideological differences, and engage in effective dialogue.

CMC has developed an intensive orientation program for incoming students that focuses on both academic freedom and methods and strategies for effective dialogue.

CMC has developed a model workshop to help students both understand doctrinal application of freedom of expression and association, and to build the necessary communication and negotiation skills in effective dialogue and problem-solving across all social and ideological differences that can apply the values of freedom of expression and viewpoint diversity in practice. We envision this as a dedicated, four-year skill-building leadership program.

The Open Academy

We will capture these commitments and actions through an institution-wide initiative we are calling The Open Academy. The Open Academy will be the primary funding vehicle for supporting these programs.


1 For example, a recent Gallup survey of Pomona College found that 88 percent of their students and 63 percent of their faculty agreed with this statement: “The climate on my campus prevents students/faculty from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”

2 View the CMC statement on non-partisanship.